Burson Audio Timekeeper amplifier
Keeping up with the Timekeeper
Burson Audio has been making a lot of noise of late and particularly in the American high-end audio arena. Our own Dave Abramson recently wrote glowingly of Burson Audio's Conductor headphone amp/preamp. The company was formed in 1996 by a group of music lovers and audio engineers located in Melbourne, Australia. Their fundamental design approach, as stated on the Burson web site, is based on the well known "less is more" philosophy. That is, place as few components in the signal path as possible and the signal will be purer. Right? Sounds simple and logical, yet many designs fall short of the goal—fewer components do not guarantee better sound. On the other hand, Burson Audio goes further in this direction than do many other manufacturers. As stated in a recent email,“…we tailor design everything from the ground up including removing the everyday audio building blocks such as IC Op amps or IC regulators.These standardized building blocks inevitably contain many components inside of them which are irrelevant to the design." And with Dave's review being so positive, I was intrigued and decided to keep in contact with the folks at Burson Audio. Along with eagerly awaiting an opportunity to audition one of their products.
That opportunity arrived a few weeks later with delivery of a large and sturdy box containing two 80-watt Timekeeper stereo amplifiers. The Burson Audio products I’ve seen have always seemed rather small and light weight. The Timekeepers I received are small, measuring 10" in length, 3" in height and just under 10½" in width. Considering it’s overall size, one might assume that the Timekeeper is designed around one of those non-traditional circuits and something that don’t require a hefty power transformer such as Class D, T or Z. That wasn’t the case. The Timekeeper weighs 17.6 lbs and is Class A/B. In short, what lies under its attractive, but hefty chassis, is an IC-free amplifier with a linear power supply using custom-built transformers. Moreover, special care was taken in laying out the circuit for the shortest possible signal paths. Again, according to Burson, "through the Timekeeper - we are challenging the established beliefs of size versus performance." The Timekeeper is an understated beauty. No glitz or glamour anywhere on its faceplate—no blinking lights or pretentious nametags. The Timekeeper’s attractions lie in its build quality and performance. The chassis is made from 6mm thick machined aluminum that the company says "improves its mechanical damping factor and thus reduces microphonic distortions that ultimately affect signal clarity."
Looking at the rear of the unit, there are two sets of speaker connections, a thermostat-controlled internal fan (that I'm told comes on only under extreme conditions), a pair of RCA inputs, a single XLR (for bridge mode only), an XLR/RCA selector switch and a power switch directly above themale IEC. A 230/115-volt selector switch, located adjacent to the male IEC, insures the Timekeeper's worldwide adaptability.
One at a Time
You must have heard Lord Acton’s oft-quoted saying that "…absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Well, if that’s true, then I was smart to begin with a single Timekeeper in stereo-mode. I hooked the amplifier to a pair of the surprisingly affordable, and excellent sounding, 87db efficient Alexis Sound Rebecca monitors. I figured the Rebeccas would be a nice place to start in terms of price/performance.
I was also interested in how the Timekeeper would do in conjunction/comparison with my reference Behold Gentile, which I kept in preamp/DAC mode only. A Marantz DV-9500 SACD player and a pair of remarkably affordable and excellent sounding interconnects from newcomer Plasencia & Hijos (of Mexico) completed the setup as I began the suggested 150-hour burn in.
Preliminary impressions (i.e., before the 150-hour mark) were that the Timekeeper had a game,full-bodied, yet detailed sound. I liked its energetic flow that conveyed a dynamic sense of liveliness with nary a hot spot in the upper frequencies. So far, so good. After the 150-hour point passed, I was able to observe even more dynamic swing to the music.
George Benson's rendition of the classic song Unforgettable, from his latest CD "Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole," has been getting a lot of play since its release in early June.This cut features Wynton Marsalis on trumpet and his playing is captured splendidly through this amp. What I particularly enjoyed was the Timekeeper’s ability to capture Benson's velvety-rich vocal phrasings while simultaneously allowing the strings to effortlessly soar above his voice. The transition from vocals to instruments—violins, bass and drums—was surprisingly smooth and presented in proper harmonic relationship giving the listening experience a sense of realism I hadn't expected in this price range.
The soundstage was as rich and detailed as it was transparent, and it had a reach that spanned across my front wall. Never once did it appear exaggerated in terms depth, width or height. In fact, I was very impressed by how often the Timekeeper invited me in to play the music louder because of its vanishingly low distortion levels.
Additionally, there exists a sense of wholesomeness with the Timekeeper that is at once disarming and hard to evaluate and describe critically. The bass is quick as a wink, taut, and sure-footed, with a well-sustained rendering of proper overtones: it leaves no doubt that the Timekeeper's small chassis contains an amplifier design that has a surprisingly high purity quotient.
I was enjoying the stereo 80-watt Timekeeper, but you should have seen the look on my face after installing a second Timekeeper! Bridged, these little monoblocks produce a whopping 240 watts. The overall sonic signature of a single stereo unit: naturalness, purity and speed, is carried over to the mono block configuration as well. However, in bridged mode - the dynamics, sense of ease, scale and treble sweetness, changed subtlety but distinctly for the better.
All Blues from pianist Mike Longo’s CD entitled "A Celebration of Diz and Miles" is a live recording I admire and seem to never tire of hearing. Listening in bridged mode, I would swear the noise level dropped considerably. The Rebecca monitors were quite stable and adept on midrange and mid-bass, but there is no question they wanted—rather, needed—more power and control in the lower frequency range.
It is interesting to note that with small monitors which generally roll-off somewhere around 50 Hz, sustaining a convincing frequency balance - one that doesn't drop precipitously - is demanding of any amplifier, (especially when the loudspeaker isn't as inefficient as the Rebecca). Having the extra power of bridged mode gave the music a sense of enhanced life and scale, particularly in the low-end. No, the bass didn't become room rattling but it did become solid enough to convince a couple of friends that a subwoofer must be tucked away in a corner. In short, the Rebeccas not only liked the extra power, they absolutely thrived on it.
A pair of Burson Audio Timekeeper amplifiers retail for around $5,200, which places them among some steep competition. Hooked up to my pair of TIDAL Piano Cera loudspeakers (coming in a $24,000 retail), the Timekeepers performed way beyond what one would expect for their asking price.Of course the sense of scale and dynamic intensity is much greater with this combination than the Rebecca monitors—or any other mini-monitor I can think of.
The 200-watt Beyond Frontiers Tulip integrated, hybrid amplifier ($18,000), as well as the Behold Gentile (also around $18,000) are far more expensive than a pair of Timekeepers. However, the Timekeepers in bridged mode never seemed to be bothered that they were up against far pricier competition. Rather, they concentrated on letting the music through in a most natural and unfettered way.
The analog Burson Audio Timekeeper cannot challenge the extreme power ratings of digital amplifiers, nor do they have to. Their overall character is remarkably reminiscent of a pair of classic Levinson ML23 stereo amplifiers I owned two decades ago. The ML23s are legendary and among the best amplifiers I have ever owned, particularly in regard to bass reproduction. The Timekeepers have a similar spirit and charm but in a very small chassis. They have a musical balance that belies their size and asking price, an uncanny ability to allow the music to flow effortlessly. I spent night after night listening and enjoying. I don’t think at this price point there is higher praise to be offered.
Consider this, the uber expensive and highly touted Halcro–(never forgot their dm68 amps remarkable noise measurements) - is the only other company I am aware of that also manufactures high end audio products in Australia. That the Burson Audio Timekeeper also boasts an ultra quiet signal path but retails for less than one-tenth the asking price of the dm68 is downright startling. Therefore, I believe the Burson Audio Timekeeper as among the Best in Class ($2500 - $5000), as well as my pick for Publisher's Choice Most Wanted Component 2013!. Personally, I love to hear anything in its price range that can compete and/or outperform a pair of these minature musical beasts. Highly recommended.
Price: $2,600.00 USA
THD: (1khz @ 8 Ohm) 0.03%
Frequency response: 0hz - 50Khz (+/-3Db)
Signal to noise ratio: >98dB (CD , Line level)
Input Sensitivity / Impedance: 240 mV / 20K
Power Consumption: 300W (peak)
Stereo Mode: Output power: 80W @ 8 Ohm
Bridge Mode (RCA & XLR): Output power: 240W @ 8 Ohm
Operation Class AB
Power Consumption: 300W Peak
Power Requirement: 240V / 110V AC
2 x RCA line level input
1 x RCA line level input (For RCA bridge mode)
1 x XLR input (for XLR bridge mode)
2 x Stereo Speaker Blinding post
Weight: app. 8 kg
Colour: silver anodized aluminium
Dimensions: 265 mm x 255 mm x 80 mm
1 x Timekeeper Power Amp
1 x Power cable
1 x User Manual (including 24 months warranty registration information)